This college basketball season always appeared to be wide open, the byproduct of the top players from last season's juggernauts going to the next level to create what looks like a historically strong NBA rookie class, in the process leaving the college game suspended in a state of parity.
For the most part, that's exactly what happened: the regular season was defined by constant change at the top of the polls and the idea that even the best programs could lose to unranked teams on any given day. It sets the stage for an NCAA Tournament that promises to be as unpredictable as ever -- only this year, no one will be surprised if the upsets come in bunches.
On Selection Sunday, two teams appear to have positioned themselves as the likely favorites: Kansas and Michigan State. It was a November win over the Jayhawks that propelled Tom Izzo's Spartans to national contender status. Kansas, meanwhile, did what Kansas always does: win the Big 12 regular season for the 12th straight year. This time, Bill Self even added a conference tournament title for good measure.
There are worthy contenders all over the country. North Carolina is loaded with size, experience and athleticism, but do they have enough shooting? Virginia has an offense that can finally match its dominant defense -- but can they finally win in March? Villanova is looking for redemption after two years of heartbreak. Oklahoma, led by senior star Buddy Hield, is anxious to prove a jump shooting team really can win the national title.
It's going to be a great tournament. Now, it's time to fill out your bracket. Here's our best guesses:
The South is loaded with talent. No. 1 Kansas will be a popular picks to cut down the nets in Houston. Both No. 5 Maryland and No. 4 Cal have NBA talent up and down the roster. No. 2 Villanova spent a good portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country.
We'll go with: Kansas vs. Cal and Arizona vs. Villanova in the Sweet 16. Arizona vs. Kansas in the Elite Eight, with the Jayhawks going to the Final Four.
Oregon is something of a surprise No. 1 seed, but a worthy one after sweeping the Pac-12 regular season and tournament. Defend champions Duke check in at a four-seed, led by potential No. 1 draft pick Brandon Ingram. Buddy Hield and the Sooners are a dangerous No. 2 seed.
We'll go with: St. Joe's pulling the upset on Oregon to meet Baylor in the Sweet 16. Northern Iowa will meet Oklahoma in the next regional semifinal. We'll take Oklahoma over St. Joe's to make the Final Four.
North Carolina is strong No. 1 in this region. No. 5 Indiana and No. 4 Kentucky each have Final Four talent. Xavier is no longer an underdog as a No. 2 seed.
We'll go with: UNC beating Kentucky and in the Sweet 16, West Virginia over Xavier in the other semifinal. That sets up UNC vs. West Virginia, with the Tar Heels advancing.
Top seeded Virginia has lost to Michigan State each of the last two seasons, and the Cavs have to be terrified it will happen again. Elsewhere in the region, Purdue is a tough No. 5 seed, and Utah has a star center in Jakob Poeltl as a three seed.
We'll go with: Virginia over Purdue in the Sweet, with Michigan State topping Utah in the other semifinal. Then MSU over Virginia. Sorry, Virginia fans.
Kansas vs. Oklahoma round three would be incredible. We'll take the Jayhawks.
In the other semifinal, Michigan State's shooting advantage over UNC gets them into the national semifinal.
We'll go with Michigan State over Kansas in the title game, giving Tom Izzo another title.
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Potential Cinderella: Northern Iowa is cruising after remarkable turnaround
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